Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
The Lowest Common Denominator
Much of life’s conflict results from unwillingness to find common denominators. It’s a tragedy. As long as we focus on higher-level differences, what’s best for you and best for me are far less likely to match. Surely we share enough in common to agree and work toward what’s best for us. Yet the minute I write this, I wonder, what could the lowest common denominator be? God does such a spectacular job of creating diversity that what distinguishes you from me becomes the first, sometimes the only, thing we see. If we distill our beings to their basics, we’re tempted to stop at “we are all His children.” Even that gives rise to debate, however, by presuming belief in God and not everyone believes. But it gets extremely close—within one filtration of our most common trait as sentient beings. We are all children, the offspring of human procreation.
Basing commonality on our inheritance as Adam’s descendants instead of our birthright as God’s children may disconcert some. Still, the Bible frequently cites human childhood as the prime indicator of equality. For example, the New Testament refers to Jesus as “the Son of man” 88 times to underscore Christ is as much like us as unlike us. He is Mary’s son the same way I’m Littia’s son and you’re your mother’s child. Before baptism confirms His divinity (Matthew 3.17), Jesus spends 30 years as a human son, 10 times longer than He’s known as God’s Son. Investing so much time to establish His identity as “the Son of man” reinforces why status as children is the one trait all people share.
The Road to Everything
This makes childhood much more than a “rite of passage.” It’s the road to everything—self-image, aspirations, fears, attitudes, and habits. For those blessed with children, setting their healthy, productive course is the most awesome responsibility ever assigned to humankind. Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs 22.6 transcends all parental advice: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Every word parents say, every attitude they exhibit defines their children’s direction. Parenting is training for life, a compilation of purposeful and accidental lessons that guide the child’s understanding of the world. And, true to Solomon’s prediction, as they mature, children invariably choose a path that responds directly to the map they were given. Some follow their parents’ guidance; others flee it at all costs.
In light of this, Solomon’s statement applies to parent and child alike. Whether or not we’re parents, we’re all children of parents—products of training that charts our lives. This calls for clear-eyed appraisal of training we received as children and how closely we follow it. It’s a painstaking, often painful process that starts with a blunt conclusion: every parent fails. Imperfect parents are really imperfectly trained children. From the most to least perfect, every parent falters, because parenting involves error. Parents hoping to avoid their parents’ mistakes err because they have no example to follow. Others who replicate their parents’ mistakes automatically err. Consequently, as children, we realize our maps are flawed in some places, true in others. Solomon’s advice to parents intrinsically asks a question all of us must answer: where is our training taking us?
The Way We Should Go
The pivotal phrase in Proverbs 22.6 is “the way he should go.” Difficulties finding and following the way we should go are largely affected by conflicts about the map we were given. In a lot of cases, parents guide us to follow the right path. Yet their response to directions our lives take—our sexual orientation or personal values, for example—contradict behaviors and beliefs they taught us to embrace. So we discard the map and lose our way. Others of us are so cruelly misguided as children we have no use for the map. Still others of us feel ambivalent about the map; we stick to its general route but stray when it’s convenient.
All of these responses are reasonable; none is relevant. Blaming faulty parenting for lack of personal and spiritual direction holds no credibility for one reason: there’s a flawless map within reach. In John 14.6, Jesus tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Of course, every parent should train his/her child to go this way. Yet, regardless how we’re trained, Christ provides all of us the perfect path to take. Following Him avoids mapping errors. It breaks cycles of parental neglect. It frees us of doubts about our direction. Some of us begin as young children led by godly parents. Others of us begin as grown children, determined to change the course our parents set for us. Young or old, we’re all children with ready access to Christ’s training for life. He leads us the way we should go.
Whether or not our parents guided us down right paths, Christ provides the perfect path for every child to follow.
(Tomorrow: Rushed Judgment)